I’m packing for a trip. I’m surrounded by the usual disaster scene: suitcases are scattered around my living room, my closets look like they’ve been ransacked, and items on my packing list are getting crossed off. It’s complicated to pack for a trip – and I’m just packing for two.
Now imagine packing for 1,000.
That’s the challenge facing Juan Manuel Barrientos and his team at El Cielo. They’re taking his famous restaurant – with locations in Medellin, Bogota and Miami – on the road for the months of September, October and November.
Quick Reviews are short peeks at restaurants in Colombia.
Andrés Carne de Res
Andrés Carne de Res is one of those restaurants in Colombia that you can’t miss while visiting Bogota. As soon as you enter the restaurant you’ll be met the craziness that has become its trademark. Musicians wander from table to table to play typical Latin ballads, waiters are dressed in colorful outfits, and random objects such as steel cows and neon hearts dangle from the ceiling.
La Candelaria is one of Bogota’s most fascinating neighborhoods, both bohemian and historic. It’s uncomfortably crowded down by the main plaza but takes on an eerie calm up by Chorro de Quevedo, the fountain and plaza where they say Bogota got its start.
I can feel the history as I walk on the quiet streets past buildings whose foundations were laid in the early 1600s. The cobblestone streets are crowded with red tile roofed houses painted in vibrant colonial colors. Occasional splashes of street art invoke the past and present, modern and historic, European and indigenous.
Quick Reviews are short peeks at restaurants in Colombia
Colombia’s beloved culinary brothers, Jorge and Mark Rausch, have been on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list with their restaurant Criterion ever since the prestigious awards began. In 2015 they moved up the list to now come in at number 18.
Their popularity has reached new heights since Jorge formed part of the Master Chef Colombia team. Criterion’s location in Zona G puts this duo in one of the hottest restaurant areas with some of the top dining establishments.
Steve Collins, a travel writer and broadcaster from Australia, has the interesting job of interviewing people from around the world that are involved in the art and business of travel.
Steve recently interviewed me for Radio Roaming to discover why Bogota is such a great destination for travelers. We discussed a little bit of everything about Bogota, from food to bicycles to pre-Columbian art.
Here are some of the topics we covered:
Do you need to know Spanish to have a good time in Bogota?
Are Colombians helpful to tourists visiting the country?
Is there a need to acclimatize to the high altitude in Bogota?
What the future holds for tourism in Colombia.
I also shared some tips on how to survive Bogota traffic.
Art and culture
How to get a taste of pre-Columbian art and history in Bogota.
How to take advantage of Bogota’s ciclovia (bike routes that stretch throughout the city).
What are the most outstanding foods to taste in Bogota?
What areas of Bogota are the best for finding exceptional restaurants?
Robb Finn has a lot of energy. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute, he worked at a number of New York City restaurants, including Daniel Boulud’s Daniel. He opened up restaurants like Fatty Cue (and their offspring Fatty Crab and Fatty Crab St. John), Blue Smoke Battery Park City, Fritzl’s Lunch Box, several of Michael Psilakis’ restaurants, and others.
Robb was recruited by the Takami restaurant group (think: Osaki, Central Cevichería) to open up their newest addition to the Bogota dining scene, Cacio e Pepe. I sat down with Robb Finn to talk about how he got into the world of food and his first year as a chef in Bogota.
You’ve opened a number of restaurants; is it accurate to say you’re attracted to high adrenaline experiences?
At every opening I tell myself it’s the last opening. I tell myself I’m going to stay put, do something small and low-key…and every single time it just gets more and more intense.
You mentioned that you dropped out of high school. Isn’t it quite a leap from not finishing school to opening restaurants in NYC?
I dropped out of school when I was 15. I was getting good grades but I was incredibly bored. I got my GED and worked washing dishes at a diner, and later I waited tables. I traveled around, and when I came back I realized I love hospitality. So I bartended in places throughout Jersey and later I opened a bar as the manager. Really, I just kind of fell into it.
I’ve been cooking with my mom since I was old enough to stand. Then one day at a restaurant, the chef didn’t show up and they said to me, “Let’s do a tasting.” I said ok. From there, I decided to attend culinary school. From then on it’s been non-stop; I‘ve just been running.
Did you have any fears about moving to Colombia?
I was very blind to any danger. Growing up in Jersey City for part of my life, and working in NYC, I was used to it. What could really happen in Colombia? It’s pretty much the same thing everywhere; I mean, walking home from work in Brooklyn I could get smashed in the back of the head with a bottle and that’s it.
How’s it going working in the kitchen with Colombians?
My Spanish is horrible, so I have no idea how it works [with the kitchen staff]. It’s almost spiritual; it’s a deeper bond because we don’t necessarily understand each other all the time.
The kids feel good about what they do, they’re proud of their work. At the end of the night, I’ll be at the bar hanging out and the kids will come up and say, “Hey chef, thanks so much.” Everyone is so excited. It’s really cool. That doesn’t happen in NYC.
What will we eat at Cacio e Pepe?
It’s progressive Italian food designed for a Colombian palate. Part of the Italian influence is to use local ingredients, cooking with what’s fresh. We make everything possible in-house.
One of the top sellers has been the meatballs, much to the chef’s surprise. The pizza has a fat crust, Brooklyn style, much to the confusion of some Colombians.
Appetizers run from $5,000-11,000, and main dishes go from $21,000-40,000.
In recent years they have popped up around the world, from Mexico to Tokyo, Scotland to Costa Rica, South Africa to Germany, and all over the United States. They have been used for everything imaginable: homes, computer labs, studios, cafes, farms, parks and hotels. Even Starbucks and Tommy Hilfiger have joined the band wagon and opened stores in them.
What are they? Shipping containers. Yes, those large metal containers that are used to ship things overseas. Using these structures for construction gives them a second, and more permanent, life.
Colombia is also in on the trend.
Container City opened to the public in February of 2013 in one of the finest business neighborhoods of Bogota. Twelve shipping containers, each one occupied by a gourmet restaurant, are set around an internal courtyard, with an additional external dining area on one side and at the back.
These shipping containers are not shy; sporting colors like fuchsia, lime green, baby blue, stoplight red and lollipop orange, they shout out irreverence. Add to that the chef graffiti on the outside walls and the result is casual yet classy and a break from the norm in this often conservative area.
Yes, it is a food court. But it’s got plenty of personality.
I sat down with the architect, Alejandro Barreneche, to talk about the project, some of the challenges faced, and the construction process.
The project started to be planned in 2010, the necessary permits took fourteen months to obtain, and the construction was finished in three months. Occupation was 100% right from the beginning.
The Container City concept combines materials that are recycled or can be, with some interesting design twists along the way. For instance, the floors are made from residue left over from coffee production. Yes, 100% Colombian coffee…floors.
The center of activity of the food mall is a 12 foot shipping container, a tower of corrugated iron dressed in stately brown. The interesting thing is that it is standing on one end.
Alexander pointed out that although they’ve stood a container on end in Paris, it has an external support, while this one in Container City is freestanding. The internal structure was designed by a Colombian architect specializing in bridge construction using a base that moves on springs to absorb movement and shocks. So don’t worry, it won’t come down any time soon; it’s even earthquake resistant.
The design also takes into account the year round good weather in Bogota. The courtyard combines open-air dining with a roofed area, allowing natural light to flood in and minimizing the need for artificial lighting.
Space is optimized at Container City. The 948 meter, multi-level area gives the impression that it’s bigger than it really is. Typically an area this size would hold only three restaurants, but twelve fit in here without feeling crowded. The layout allows for the easy circulation of people and plenty of open space.
Recycling is just starting to get attention in Bogota, and is not yet a popular concept in most areas. The fact that Container City is occupied mainly by gourmet fast food restaurants helps people in the community value the recycled/recyclable concept even more. And it works – this popular mall is packed even well after the lunch hour.
Container City is hip, artsy, and gets people thinking outside the box (or shipping container). It certainly is a reminder that anywhere around the world, we can all do our part to help the environment.